The kiss wasn't captured on film, immortalized in bronze or celebrated in song. It didn't inspire any poetry or longing sighs in darkened movie theaters. In fact, as kisses go, it didn't amount to much. Just a 6-year-old boy giving a classmate a peck on the cheek at an elementary school in Lexington, N.C. Still, it was enough to land Johnathan Prevette in hot water and make him the most notorious pint-sized kisser since Georgie Porgie.

Given the cultural and historical significance of kissing, perhaps it isn't surprising that Johnathan has became such a national cause celebre that people are still talking about. Kissing, in all its forms, exerts a powerful hold over our imagination. Even more than sex, kissing is the ultimate act of intimacy. But don't take our word for it. Consider the ways the kiss has shaped our world, or our perception of it.


Well, not exactly. But elephants do it, in the most unusual of ways. They stick their trunks in each other's mouth. Many other mammals also engage in some form of kissing.


Unless it's a pat, lick or rub - the equivalent of kissing in isolated cultures. Still, more than 90 percent of the world's peoples do it the familiar way: lip to lip.


Kissing cousins

Kiss and tell

Kiss me, you fool

Kiss my grits

Kiss it goodbye

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Kiss off

The kiss of death


But my kisses bring again, bring


Seals of love, but sealed in vain,

sealed in vain

- Shakespeare, From "Measure for Measure"

O love, thy kiss would wake the dead!

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

What of soul was left, I

wonder, when the kissing had to stop?

- Robert Browning

So, so, break off this last

lamenting kiss

Which sucks two souls, and vapors both


-John Donne


Rudolph Valentino and Agnes

Ayres in "The Sheik"

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in

"Gone With the Wind"

Burt Lancaster and Deborah

Kerr in "From Here to Eternity"

Julia Roberts and Richard

Gere in "Pretty Woman"

Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

and Patrick Swayze in "Ghost"


Kisses Sweeter than Wine,

Jimmie Rodgers, 1957

Sealed With a Kiss, Brian

Hyland, 1962

Shoop, Shoop Song (It's In His

Kiss), Betty Everett, 1964

Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him

Goodbye, Steam, 1969

Kiss You All Over, Exile, 1978

Kiss, Prince, 1986

Kiss From a Rose, Seal, 1995


Snow White

Sleeping Beauty

The Frog Prince

Charles and Diana (hey, they don't all have happy endings)


Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway

Bob Packwood and just about every woman he knew

Marlon Brando and Larry King

Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev


The earliest written traces of urban civilization dating back to 3500 B.C. include recipes for beer and tax records, but zilch on kissing.

Rubbing noses

The first written reference to kissing comes from India, circa 1500 B.C., in which Vedic verses refer to the quaint custom of pressing noses together as a show of affection.

The Joy of Kissing

Two thousand years later, the Kama Sutra, likely the world's first how-to sex manual, records examples of erotic kissing and kissing techniques.

Friendship kissing

From India, the kissing bug spread to Persia, Syria and Assyria and on to Greece and Rome, where friendship kissing was all the rage in Caesar's time.

The kiss of betrayal

Kissing took on a far more sinister cast when Judas kissed Jesus after the Last Supper. But Judas' betrayal didn't sour Christians on kissing.

The Holy kiss

Kissing became an act of reverence in Christian rites. But the Holy kiss got out of hand, and around 1311 the Roman Catholic Church outlawed certain kisses. Kissing with the intent to fornicate was a mortal sin. Kissing for carnal delight was a venial sin. Kissing in reverence to God was A-OK.

The French kiss

The first romantic kiss took place in French Medieval literature. Kissing played a central role in Medieval ritual. Men kissed, sometimes on the lips, to pay homage, seal a bargain, express political and familial affinity. Knights, abiding by the chivalric code, were versed in the art of kissing, be it on the hand, or any other appropriate body part.

Modern smooching

The current rage for blowing air kisses suggests that kissing is in danger of losing its tactile significance. Still, interest in kissing remains intense. When William Crane, author of "The Art of Kissing" and "The Book of Kisses," tours colleges campuses, his appearances draw as many as 700 screaming, cheering students, many of whom are more than willing to demonstrate the "Lip-o-Suction Kiss," the "Candy Kiss," the "Electric Kiss" and a host of other smooches on stage.

Source: Vaughn M. Bryant Jr., anthropologist at Texas A&M; University

Pub date: 10/23/96

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